Newcomers to Taiwan may be amazed by the variety and style of the cafes dotting throughout the entire country, yet this coffee culture is far from an established tradition. Until recently, coffee was a purely Western habit associated with wealth.
However, with the arrival of the Starbucks coffee chain on Taiwanese shores, coffee-drinking took off. Starbucks is not the only place to drink coffee in Taiwan though. There was also a sudden explosion in small, private coffee shops. With the economic slump, a lot of people find themselves out of work or making less than they want. The price to set up a cafe in Taiwan is not high; barely more than the cost of a small car. As a result, hundreds of small coffee establishments spread across the whole country.
Around two thousand coffee shops are thriving on the island. While some are posh establishments, others are specialty enterprises. Themed cafes are quite popular in Taiwan. Some coffee shops have shelves jam-packed with rows upon rows of fiction, while others are for audiophiles, with headphones and CD players adorned across the room. In Taiwan, the café culture is like a Mecca for appreciators of coffee. Cafes cater to every single interest or subject. No matter if one is a comics-lover, an aficionado for books, or just loves listening to music, there is a café in Taiwan for you.
Food served in such cafes are the typical coffeehouse fare; sandwiches and assorted pastries. Of course, this food have been through Taiwan culinary talent, and often taste better than foreign counterparts. However, some cafes serve heavier fare, such as Taiwanese hotpot.
Some cafes, such as the Princess Anne café at Xinshe, occupy a large area. The Princess Anne in particular, has a large garden, where patrons can sit and drink their coffee in. The cafe is actually a collection of small wooden buildings, which look like something out of a fairy tale. The place looks peaceful and idyllic, with mountains in the background. The garden is particularly beautiful, with lush green grass and vibrant flowers. Walking through the garden, while sipping a hot beverage and soaking in the scene is a great way to spend an afternoon. The ethereal beauty of the cafe is far-famed, with many visitors even claiming it profoundly moved them. Its a favourite for wedding shoots as well. Food served there is also excellent. Prince Anne’s a wonderful place to visit, especially in the summer, when the grass is green.
Of course, there are more exotic coffeehouses to while your time, with themes such as that of cartoon characters. For example, the Hello Kitty Café in Taipei, has the entire place decorated in bright pink and has a -yes you guessed it!- Hello Kitty theme. Some of the seats are shaped in Hello Kitty’s distinctive profile. Servers wear a pink uniform with Hello Kitty’s face printed at the front. Lighting is in the form of chandeliers attached to the ceiling and the walls. The plates have Hello Kitty print and even the food is shaped in Hello Kitty’s face. The coffee foam at the top of the coffee is often styled into Hello Kitty’s face. The café is a small, cute place and certainly worth a visit if one is a fan of the feline character.
An additional coffeehouse to call on would be the Aranzi café. Aranzi is a bright turquoise green shop, with the wall paper being that of cartoon characters. You could see rows of adorable rabbit cakes lining the shelves, graphic characters of Silky, the Panda-Bug, Eyelash Bunny and fluffy clouds decorated on the walls, stationaries and gifts on sale at the corner. The food is adorned with adorable cartoonish themes as well.
Another place of note will be the Miyahara Café in Taichung. Located near the Taichung Train Station, the 2-storey building used to be an eye clinic that was constructed by a Japanese optometrist called Miyahara in 1927. With a dilapidated looking exterior of concrete and red bricks, the retro-looking building contrasts sharply with the modern city of Taichung spreading across the horizon. While queues are often long, the warm service as well as the second-to-none ice cream and the interesting plethora of drinks at the café makes the wait well worth.
Café hopping around Taiwan can be quite an eye-opener, with a vibrant cafe culture that caters to every single fantasy there is. It is certainly recommended for those wanting a more unusual way to spend their holiday time instead of on a tour bus!